government contracts law: an overview
The federal government is, by far, the largest contractor in the United States. It mainly contracts for consumer products (toothpaste, milk), services (contractor services, consulting agencies), and military products (stealth bombers, guns). Three characteristics set government spending apart from private spending. First, government contracts are heavily regulated to curb misappropriation of funds and ensure uniform policies and practices across agencies. Second, the contract terms are the product of careful drafting by teams of government attorneys and have often received distinct meaning through past contract adjudications. This means that a private concern contracting with the government is well advised to consult with an attorney knowledgeable about government contracts any time issues arise. And third, because of the government's special status disputes under government contracts follow a very different procedural path than those arising under private contracts.
Among the federal agencies the Department of Defense (DOD) is the largest contractor. In the DOD, the procurement contracting officer is in charge of awarding contract while an administrative contracting officer monitors performance of the contract, and a termination contracting officer represents the government in the event of a contract termination. It is important to note that in all branches of the government specific individuals are assigned the role of procurement officers and only they have the power to bind the government.
The federal regulations concerning government contracts are known as the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR). They are issued by the General Services Administration.
State agencies, municipalities and public authorities operating under state law are subject to similar government contract regulations, but at the state level.
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